For larger brands, the decision to outsource an SEO campaign or keep it in-house may be a regularly recurring dilemma. Developing an effective digital marketing strategy, especially for a large organization, can be difficult work. In some cases it can take the better part of a year or more to make sure all the correct pieces are in place, ensure the strategy has been thoroughly researched, secure enough resources to execute a comprehensive campaign… and the list could go on and on.

Because of this, brands often face a difficult question: would it be wiser to hire and train an in-house digital expert to handle this work internally, or does the situation require biting the bullet and hiring an external team of professionals?

As a search marketing and digital agency ourselves, of course, we’re a bit biased. But this decision is an important (and sometimes expensive) one for major brands, so we’re here to provide what we consider to be the major pros and cons of either approach.

When Should You Hire An In-House SEO?

There are certainly quite a few cases where having an internal SEO or team of SEOs makes the most sense. Some of these simply apply to internal vs. external hires in general. For example, consider these factors:

  • Cost and value over time. For many organizations, cost is going to be a deciding factor. And in most situations, it’ll come down to a simple question: will the benefit of hiring a marketing expert and training them over time outweigh the costs associated with hiring a new employee?As any business owner knows, hiring new people can be expensive. There are the financial basics to consider – compensation, benefits, and taxes – and then the normal challenges that come with training new employees to be part of an established team, particularly if the organization relies on certain tools or techniques the employee is not familiar with yet. This can take time, and there may be a few bumps in the road (including, in some cases, expensive mistakes) before a new person is completely adjusted to their new work environment.However, in lots of cases this investment may be well within the organization’s interests. Once those initial growing pains are out of the way, you have a new addition to your team ready to be productive and help you take on the world of marketing in a way you couldn’t have managed before.In that case, the question of value may essentially come down to whether or not your marketing needs are time-sensitive. If you’re just looking for a one-time strategic overhaul, you may be best off hiring an agency, or even a consultant. If, however, you need someone to continually revisit marketing objectives and tactics – which should probably be most organizations – the investment into a new hire may be well worth it over time.
  • Familiarity with the brand. Often a priority for brands and organizations is working with someone who understands the brand, its needs, and its messaging at a very high level. This may be particularly useful if the brand is in an uncommon vertical or one that requires a fair amount of technical or scientific knowledge, such as the healthcare or pharmaceutical industry. An internal hire will likely absorb the finer points of this sort of information over time, at a level that even an expert researcher might not grasp easily. (Of course, there are advantages to an outside perspective as well, which I’ll cover in the next section.)
  • Added value throughout the business. Having a digital marketing expert on your payroll can have effects that reach far beyond just marketing. To start, digital marketing in this day and age – and SEO in particular – is all about relevance, and effectively communicating relevance to the end user. Websites should cater to end user experience first and foremost, using explicit titles and descriptions on key pages of the site to clearly communicate a value proposition to potential customers or clients. Advertisements pointing to the site should be congruent with this messaging, concisely describing the product or service offering and compelling users to learn more. In short, a digital marketing expert can teach you a lot about how to communicate exactly what you do, how you do it, and why your offering is preferable to that of your competitors. Sound familiar? It should! The more you adhere to these principles, and the better you get at communicating your brand’s values to the end client, the easier every aspect of the customer interaction becomes – and with it, the path to accelerated business growth.

When Should You Hire An SEO Agency?

  • Agencies live and breathe their work. A team that handles SEO projects and digital marketing in general day in and day out is likely to understand their work at an extremely high level. Since they aren’t responsible for other priorities, and likely have years (or decades!) of collective experience – both in individual employees, and in the learned institutional memory accumulated over the history of the organization – in digital marketing of all sorts.Generally this means an agency will be able to understand things from more of a “forest” vs. “trees” approach, since a high degree of familiarity with digital marketing as an evolving industry over time typically brings about a more big picture approach in which individual tactics or platforms, while important, may be short-lived. (Ask anyone who got really familiar with marketing on Google+.) In short, agencies may be more likely to lend a bleeding edge, strategy-focused perspective to a digital marketing campaign.
  • A third party perspective can be highly useful. It’s true that an in-house person will probably end up knowing your industry inside and out. But sometimes this can be more of a liability than an asset, particularly when trying to reach users who may search for your brand a lot differently than you expect. Advanced technical knowledge and a depth of understanding is great, but effective marketing campaigns rely on the ability to successfully communicate that knowledge to potential customers in a language they speak – bridging the gap between their understanding and your expertise. This, of course, tends to be a core competency for any marketing agency, and so a collaborative relationship between your team and an agency marketing experts may ultimately bring about the best of both worlds.
  • Agencies may have special relationships, partnerships, or certifications not available or common for individuals. Google’s Partner program is just one example of this. AdWords agencies, or those specializing in Analytics, often have entire teams of certified professionals. Those certifications provide benefits, and partnership programs allow early access to beta testing tools and more.
  • Agencies usually specialize in more than one area of marketing. Say you’re hiring someone for an SEO project. An SEO specialist may have devoted all or the majority of their time and marketing education to understanding organic SEO. That’s fine for getting most of the work done, but understanding marketing from an omni-channel perspective other areas of marketing that can have a complementary effect. One example is the influence AdWords-style thinking can have on SEO: if you understand the relative value of keywords (whether in terms of cost per click or search volume), this can help you more easily prioritize keyword targets, rather than wasting time on terms that aren’t profitable or frequently searched (but seem like they may be most relevant to the business – usually based on someone’s opinion rather than data).
  • In-house employees usually have other priorities. If you’re an in-house person, even if your specialty is SEO, chances are you’re going to wear a lot of other hats over the course of your job. This isn’t completely avoidable with agencies either – especially small ones – but agencies do, of course, dedicate more of their time to digital marketing work, and this tends to have an “economies-of-scale” type effect on the ability to both understand the work at a high level, and more importantly for most businesses, the ability to perform it quickly and efficiently at a high degree of quality.

Of course, every business is different, and I can’t stress enough that this decision comes down to the particular needs of the brand and intended project. Time-sensitive campaigns may not allow for the extensive training needed to get a new employee up to snuff, and in other cases – even if you intend to hire an agency – it may be useful to have someone in-house at least managing the digital side of marketing, to make sure somebody on your team is overseeing everything.

These are just a few of the possible pros and cons of hiring an agency vs. a new employee. If you have any considerations of your own, or have past experience with this very dilemma, we’d love to hear your input in the comments!